Franci Cvetko serving his full line-up at Kogl winery.
Formally suited we hit the ground running on our latest work trip to Central Europe. We spent 12 days split between Croatia, Slovenia and Hungary. The night of our arrival was the kick-off Gala Dinner for the Zagreb Wine Gourmet Festival held in the capital’s Museum of Contemporary Art. Hosting over 140 wineries it is the largest tasting of Croatia’s wines all year. Attendees ranged from top politicians like President Ivo Josipovic to France’s father of biodynamic farming Nicolas Joly. The fair itself was a frenzy of trade and consumers out of their minds to taste everything Croatian. We went in with high expectations but still the number of excellent wines was shocking. There is a growing self awareness among producers that indigenous grape varieties made in local styles are Croatia’s great strength. This coupled with the rapid increases in quality is yielding the most transparent views of Croatia’s complex terroir yet seen. To watch this unfold is inexplicable. Despite the crowd, between tastings we were able to finalize most of our spring shipment. Both days we tasted until the lights flashed and our mouths hurt. After the tasting we managed to enjoy 4 separate multi-course dinners in just 3 nights. We shared endless conversations with old friends, and got to know new ones. We all but completely burned ourselves out. Or so we thought.
Also at the fair pouring were a number of Slovenian producers including our friends from Kabaj. We had made plans to stay at their estate in Goriška Brda which has excellent guest accommodations. Together over the next few days we sped around Slovenia visiting their friends whose wines they thought we would enjoy. On the way from Zagreb we stopped in the chilly, domed hills of the Bela Krajina region to taste electric Laški Rizling and very cool climate Modra Frankinja AKA Blaufränkisch. We drank the iron rich Vitovska and Teran of the Karst, sea tinged Malvasija and Refošk from Koper, Pinela in both light and powerful forms from the Vipava and a long list of Brda wines, too numerous to recount. Our stay at Kabaj gave us a sense for not just the Kabaj wines but the family themselves. We tasted many wines some experimental, some from barrel, some quite old and others yet to be released. One long night this lasted until 6am in the morning. To enjoy this close a perspective on such an interesting producer was an honor. After this we met with our great partner Silvo Črnko and his 16 year old daughter Tamara who is a certified diver and now on her way to become a pilot. Naturally happy, Silvo’s gift is his ability to turn that happiness into wine. The 2010 Jareninčan, like the 09, is pure refreshing joy. Snow gently fell while we enjoyed a familial meal with the Cvetko’s on the vineyard hill named Kogl. We selected a rose of Pinot Noir and an elegant sparkling from the expansive carefully nurtured selection of estate wines they Franci makes to be added to the classic dry whites of theirs we have long sold. These plus new wines from both Batič and Kabaj are due in Mid April.
From Slovenia we charged full bore into Hungary. Staying in Budapest next to the castle of Queen Maria Theresa, we took day trips to a number of important appellations. While in Budapest we spent time with our friends Gábor and Carolyn Bánfalvi who offer some of the best food and wine tours in Europe through their travel business “Taste of Hungary”. Gábor introduced us to a number of excellent Forditas, an almost extinct “lesser” style of Tokaji we have been on the look-out for. We visited two volcanic wine regions back to back. Somlo, exclusively a white wine appellation and Eger which is almost exclusively red. Generally speaking the wines could not be more different. Somlo whites are big, gentle and lovely, while the reds from Eger are angular, sinewy and often demand aging. What they share is pronounced, often aromatic minerality and an infinite range of texture derived from the unique volcanic soils of each. Drawn to Somlo in part by the rare grape Juhfark we were equally struck by the Furmint, Hárslevelű and most of all Olaszrizling we tasted. In Eger we spent an evening with Dr. Janos Stumpf enjoying homemade wild venison sausage and a range of already delicious barrel samples. He is involved in a collaborative export project with Canadian Master Sommelier John Szábo called J&J. Their perfumed, muscular 2006 Kékfrankos from primly situated Eged vineyard will be coming to us soon. Taking little time to rest we managed to see both of Hungary’s major southerly red wine regions Szekszárd and Villány. After tasting the 2009 Eszterbauer Kadarka named Nagypám or Grandfather at Bistro Bock in Budapest last year we contacted Janos Eszterbauer and were lucky enough to buy a bit. Never met, only tasted one wine and it turned out to be one of the fastest selling for us, ever. Finally able to meet the family we discovered Eszterbauer is more than just great Kadarka. Just briefly seeing Villány we were happy we did not miss it. The final taste left in our mouths was Gere’s lovely new 2010 Rose and the sensational vintage specific Pinot Noir’s from the impassioned team at Vylyan.
As we seem to always find at the end of these trip our partners and the quality of their wines exceeded our expectations. We are excited to share what we found with you and hope that the wines will inspire you to visit our friends who make them.